The next battle in the war over recreational cannabis began, last week, with a postcard: "In February your Manitou neighbors will circulate a petition calling for a vote of Manitou residents — sign it!" reads the card from No Retail Marijuana in Manitou Springs.
Led by businessman Tim Haas — who employs around 120 seasonal and full-time workers between his four businesses, including the flagship Garden of the Gods Trading Post, where the 41-year-old still has the stool he used to need to see over the counter — NRMMS was recently formed around the idea that, in the wake of anti-Amendment 64 votes from Colorado Springs and others, town residents should get to choose whether they want to be the only purveyors of pot in either El Paso or Teller county.
"It's a pretty simple message that I've tried to carry forward," Haas says from a seat in the Trading Post's poorly heated cafeteria, soothing Native American flute music playing overhead. And it's based on the impression that City Council ignored the counsel of former mayors, select local entrepreneurs and the town's school board when green-lighting the opening of two recreational dispensaries on the edges of town.
Simultaneously, Haas is as aware as any that Manitou carries a certain reputation as a free-thinking hamlet of experimentation. "I think part of Manitou's attractiveness is it's always been an eclectic group," he says. "It's an accepting community on a whole variety of different levels, and that's part of the reason that I really like Manitou."
But: "In my opinion, perception is more important than reality. And a lot of potential visitors from out of the state, their perception is this is no longer going to be family friendly."
Which is a threatening sentiment to a place dependent on bringing in Texans with a hankering for tchotchkes. Manitou Springs finance director Rebecca Davis says some 47 percent of the 2014 general fund is projected to come from tourism-related taxes, which doesn't count the $506,000 anticipated to come from controversial new on-street parking fees.
Of course, with a bevy of taxes attached, thanks to Proposition AA and other measures, there's money to be made from recreational marijuana, too. The state of Colorado collected some $1.24 million in tax revenue in the first month of legal sales, according to a survey of stores conducted by NBC News, with additional openings putting the state on pace to bring in roughly over $100 million annually. (Alcohol-related taxes brought in $39.9 million last year.) But Manitou Springs' City Council didn't forecast any amount of recreational marijuana tax revenue into its budget in an attempt to remove the impression that it was allowing shops for the financial benefit.
Haas — who says he voted against Amendment 64, but is opposed to incarcerating partakers — doesn't think THC tourism will have much of an ancillary benefit for his sales: With no legal place for tourists to smoke it, he expects them to buy their bud and leave.
So the drive for up to three times more than the needed 287 signatures goes on, with June 1 as the target turn-in date. Assuming success, a $5,000 to $6,000 media campaign would then be waged in the months leading up to the November vote, which the campaign leader says he expects will go his way.
"[But] even if this petition isn't successful, I'll feel a lot better by at least having people have the opportunity to vote one way or the other," Haas says. "Even if they say, 'Yes, this is absolutely what we want,' so be it. At least we know the answer to that specific question."
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